Palestinian president backs membership in International Criminal Court – Washington Post

Stung by a failed U.N. resolution to push a Middle East peace settlement, the Palestinian Authority president pledged Wednesday to join the International Criminal Court — a move that could open the way for filing war crimes allegations against Israel.

The announcement by Mahmoud Abbas is certain to bring opposition from Washington and could deal a major blow to any hopes of reviving peace talks between Palestinians and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It also reflected the frustration among Palestinian leaders at Netanyahu’s hard-line policies, including expansion of West Bank settlements, as well as sharpening tensions after a series of clashes in recent months and this summer’s war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

In a sweeping shift of tactics, Abbas said Wednesday that his West Bank government would back more than 20 international treaties, including the framework that set up the Hague-based International Criminal Court.

The Palestinian move came a day after falling just one vote short in a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that Israel step up peace efforts and withdraw from occupied lands.

“We want to complain. There’s aggression against us, against our land. The Security Council disappointed us,” Abbas said as he gathered the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

It was not clear, however, what level of participation would be granted to Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the various groups, including the court.

Many nations signed the court’s founding document, but it has been seriously hobbled by snubs from countries such as the United States, China, India and most of the Arab world. Israel, too, has not joined.

The Palestinians recently gained observer status among the court’s backers and in 2012 gained nonmember observer state status at the U.N. General Assembly.

In a sign of the court’s limitations, prosectors were forced this month to abandon a case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who had been charged with orchestrating a 2007 campaign of ethnic violence. Although Kenya is a member of the court, the government refused to cooperate with the prosecution and blocked investigators from gathering sufficient evidence to continue the case.

Shortly after the Palestinian decision, Netanyahu said it was the Palestinian Authority — not Israel — that had reason to fear the International Criminal Court. Netanyahu denounced Abbas’s political accommodations with Hamas, which he alleged “commits war crimes.”

Tuesday’s resolution at the Security Council sought to increase pressure on Netanyahu’s government and mark another step toward possible Palestinian statehood.

But the vote was strongly opposed by the Obama administration, which favors a negotiated agreement rather than a forced pact or unilateral action by the Palestinians.

In Israel, the government released a statement Wednesday that called the unsuccessful resolution “completely one-sided” and said it lacked “the components that would advance a future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.”

“The failure of the Palestinian resolution must teach the Palestinians that provocation and attempts to impose unilateral measures on Israel will not achieve anything — to the contrary,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The resolution called for Israelis and Palestinians to strike a peace deal within a year and for Israel to withdraw within three years to its borders before the 1967 war — in which Israel won control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

It also declared that East Jerusalem would be the capital of a Palestinian state, a more hard-line stance than an earlier version that described Jerusalem as a shared capital. It also demanded an end to Israeli settlement building.

The resolution fell one vote short of the nine necessary for passage, sparing the United States the need to wield its veto power as one of the council’s five permanent members.

In the days before the vote, Secretary of State John F. Kerry made a flurry of calls to 13 foreign ministers and leaders to express concern that a resolution would only deepen the conflict, U.S. officials said.

Still, the resolution won the backing of several U.S. allies, including France and Jordan, which agreed to introduce the measure at the council after it was endorsed by 22 Arab nations.

Five of the 15 countries on the Security Council abstained from the vote, including Britain. Australia was the only country that joined the United States in voting against the resolution.

Morello reported from Washington.


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